Serenity comes when you trade expectations for acceptance. Wise words from Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy founder Michael Lee. Words I’ve been integrating into my life in so many different ways lately. Not intentionally. In fact, the process of that integration was well underway before I’d even read them. Life is a funny sort of teacher. It doesn’t just hand you such profound answers. It offers you experiences that, if you’re paying attention, can lead to discovering your own personal versions of universal truths. And somehow, that makes them feel all the more real.
Expectations can take on many different forms. There are the individual sort, the standards of performance we hold ourselves to. What do we expect to accomplish in any given day? What do we expect to accomplish in our lifetime? What pressures do we place on ourselves in terms of appearance, time management, commitments, and such? At one level, the expectations we set for ourselves may help keep us focused, moving forward toward the fulfillment of our goals and life purpose. But, at another level, they may be keeping us from feeling content with who we are in the present moment.
Interpersonal expectations are the guidelines we establish for our relationships. What do we expect the people in our lives to do, say, and think in order for the relationship to feel acceptable? On the one hand, there are clearly words and actions that can be hurtful in relationships. To expect people in our lives to refrain from such things is natural. On the other hand, if we uphold unreasonable expectations for our relationships, we set ourselves up for perpetual disappointment and/or failed relationships.
Cultural expectations involve our ideals, our view of how the world should be politically, socially, economically, and otherwise. When we formulate this perfect picture of the world, we give ourselves something to work toward. Like Martin Luther King’s dream, we create a vision for a better world and try our best to encourage that version of the world through our actions and words. Inevitably, though, we find ourselves confronted with the rather large divide that can exist between what is our ideal and what is actually real.
My practice of yoga has grown into a practice of mindful awareness of what is over the years. Much more than a flow of physical postures, it is a practice of being present, as I observe my breath and my body’s state of being in that moment. I have found the mindful awareness I have cultivated in my yoga and meditation practice seeping into every other aspect of my life as well. In my work as a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist, this mindful awareness has evolved into deeper and deeper levels of knowing myself and hearing my inner voice of wisdom. And in this process of self-awareness, I have come to see how so much of my discontentment in life has been connected to the unrealistic expectations I have been holding onto.
Recent months have been filled with opportunities for me to re-evaluate what role expectations have played in my life. Looking back, it seems like I unwittingly enrolled in Expectations 101. Thankfully, I was engaged enough in the process of self-discovery to ask myself some very meaningful questions. What level of accomplishment makes me lovable? How reliable and loyal does a friend have to be to make the relationship worth fighting for? What world problems must be solved in order for me to acknowledge life’s inherent beauty? When I looked at each of these questions with the same sort of surrender to what is that I bring to my yoga mat, I found that I was already lovable, my friends were no more and no less perfect than me, and the world at large is an exquisite, mysterious expression of divine imagination I may never fully understand. And that’s okay.
Expectations can create a tangled mess of discontentment, frustration, and disillusionment. Acceptance unravels that mess to reveal some very simple truths. One, we cannot control everything that happens in life, or even most of it. We can, however, control our reaction to what happens. It is our reaction to what happens that determines our own level of serenity, and quite often, what happens next. Two, the more space and grace we offer for imperfections in ourselves and in others, the more space and grace others will reflect back to us. And space and grace, to me, feels like serenity.
I encourage you to start paying attention to how your own expectations are impacting your capacity for serenity. Set aside some time for quiet reflection, maybe in a journal or just sitting with your thoughts over a warm cup of tea. List a few of the expectations you have for yourself, for your friends, and for the world in general. How do you react when those expectations are not met? What might it feel like to set aside those expectations and simply embrace yourself, your friends, and the world just as you and they are? Then, test it out. The next time you have the opportunity to let go of an expectation in favor of accepting what is, do it. See how it serves you. You may find, as I have, that surrendering your expectations opens up a realm of surprisingly refreshing experience your expectations could never have envisioned!